‘We live in an age of expression," says Richard Edelman, CEO and President of the largest, independent communications firm in the world.
Over the past seven days, Edelman’s words have been a constant companion as a colleague and I envisioned what a from-scratch online newspaper would look and feel like.
The truth is even though writer Laura Dowrich (also former journalist) once reminded me that Trinidad’s low Internet penetration rates mean that print will be around for sometime, I think you would have to be foolish not to see the graffiti on wall, its psychedelic strokes portending a future no less mind-altering .
Within the last 12 months, local newspaper prices have gone up to compensate for a loss in advertising dollars. Newsrooms have laid off staff, the latest being the Express. More telling is that the dailies have started utilising twitter and facebook as a way to push content. Even the once stodgy Trinidad Guardian is getting accolades for its Twitter account that connects reporters to readers with breaking news updates, twitpics of headlines, and informal chat.
This brings me back to my friend’s question about what defines online journalism and Edelman’s observation about the change in the way we live and communicate.
Reporting no doubt takes on an altogether different context when you’re thinking about online journalism. It’s no longer about journalists telling a story and then moving quickly onto the next. Less still is it about editors knowing what’s best. You know that old paternalistic model; “We know what the public needs but the public can’t be trusted to know what it wants.”
New journalism is really about editors/reporters being responsive on social networks in ways that allow for a continuous connection with the public and for private/public conversations to take place. It is about building a platform that is both personal and outward looking as well as developing a community that basically becomes the reason for the site’s existence, with the content on the outside.
I know. I know. This sounds sacrilegious. Journalists have forever made content king and editors have held on tightly to the crown. And while content in an online world is still the bane of a newspaper’s existence, I think it is the engagement of the public that defines the new media.
The Iran elections (still a trending topic on Twitter) makes for a good example. It’s history now that when mainstream media reporters were kicked out of the country, it was citizen contributors communicating via Twitter and Facebook and cell phones that allowed the story to be kept on the front pages for a full three weeks after the fact. Reporters also responded to the “vox populi” by amending story leads and headlines based on feedback from the community, all of this in real time.
Currently, the WSJ does a great job of allowing their reporters and experts to chat in comment threads and setting up scheduled and impromptu real-time interactive opportunities. And while the content on the Huffington Post attracts 20 million unique visitors a month, it is the 1.5 million comments (each month) that fertilises their on-line ecosystem.
Bloggers are going to be critical to the process of news gathering and story telling. And I am not talking about merely transferring editorial comments and columnists onto a word press format or the likes. I am referring to hearing real stories and opinions from those who are in charge, from government leaders, to CEOs , from the people in theater and the fashionista in the audience to the athlete. All these folk with their independent and varied stream of consciousness have enriched the Net for years and will no doubt be credible voices in an online newspaper world.
These are just some of the points I’ve been mulling over but they certainly shed light on the comment about living in the age of expression if only because for the very first time, the conversation and debate with citizen journalist ‘is as important as the reporting and subsequent story’.
I would love to know what you think about the ways newspapers can be reinvented or debuted in an online world.
Tomorrow, media consultant Lenny Grant’s guest post on the battle between traditional and new media will be featured on this blog.